Tsukijisay: Enjoy seasonal sushi without breaking the bank

by J.J. O'Donoghue

Special To The Japan Times

Tsukijisay has been serving sushi since almost as long as nigiri (sushi with vinegared rice) has been around — the original restaurant is more than 125 years old, a time when this venerable fast food was still in its infancy. As the restaurant name suggests, the origin of Tsukijisay is the historic fish market in Tokyo, which this year will undergo a momentous move.

Tsukijisay, located in the center of the Kyoto and within shouting distance of Nishiki Market, is one of nearly 30 sushi restaurants dotted around the country run by the same company. In the hierarchy of sushi restaurants, Tsukijisay lies midway between family-oriented conveyor-belt establishments and high-end places where an individual piece can cost as much as an entire meal elsewhere.

Price is just one of the crowd-pleasers here, the quality of the sushi is another. The sushi sets, ranging from ¥1,300 to ¥3,500 for the omakase (chef’s choice) set, are a good way to sample the menu.

There’s much to enjoy at lunch, from the sliver of sardine — its skin slit open to reveal succulent flesh — topped with scallions and a glob of grated ginger, to the makizushi (rolled sushi) studded with crunchy burdock root soaked in vinegar. Complementing this were squid tendrils rolled around vinegared rice. But perhaps best of all was the not so sushi dish of chawanmushi, a small bowl of savory egg custard with clams.